Georgia district meets future students in cradle to prepare them for classroom

Children are increasingly arriving at school wired and ready.

I wrote a few days ago about a longitudinal study of children enrolled in high-quality child care since birth. Nobel laureate and economist James Heckman said his study – which tracked the children to age 35 – found the window to raise IQ was birth to 3.

Earlier research by Heckman found preschool for 3-and 4-year-olds enhanced academic performance, but not IQ and cognitive ability. State pre-kindergartens target 4-year-olds, but the lasting IQ boost comes when programs start at infancy, said Heckman, explaining, “We found most of the growth in IQ in terms of cognitive skills has taken place by age 3.”

The Heard County School System wants to capitalize on that window of opportunity. In this essay, Superintendent Rodney Kay explains how Heard is doing so with its Early Childhood Outreach Initiative, known as Baby Braves.  (The Heard County sports teams are the Braves.)

By Rodney Kay

We are a small school district about 40 miles southwest of Atlanta.  Mostly rural, we have a high number of economically disadvantaged children who attend our schools.

Disappointing state College and Career Ready Performance Index scores have led many districts to try to find the quick fixes, the low-hanging fruit to increase the score.  In my opinion, there is no quick fix.

Like all school systems in Georgia, Heard County has wrestled with the idea of improving student achievement. We have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on remediation programs, after-school tutoring, cram-and-slam study sessions and summer school. We have built remediation time into the daily schedules at most of our schools. Yet, we are still not satisfied with our results.

After lengthy discussions we came up with the following: High schools blame middle schools. Middle schools blame elementary schools. Elementary schools blame pre-K. Pre-K blames parents for not sending their kids to pre-K or for not having them ready when they arrive.

Here are some of the educational materials Heard County gives parents of babies.

Here are some of the educational materials Heard County gives parents of babies.

I’m sure this blame game sounds familiar. Rather than spending remediation money at the high school, middle school, elementary school or pre-k levels to fix the problem, what if we spent the money reaching out to new parents and educating them on how to prepare their children for pre-K and school success?

What if we gave families books and other resources to engage in meaningful learning opportunities for their children?

What if  we connected these children and families to their elementary schools at birth and introduced them to their pre-K teachers four years in advance and hosted nights for them to get to know the school and the faculty?

We are doing just that.

The program is called Baby Braves, and each of the 156 children between birth and age 3 and their families living in our county have been personally contacted in their home by a representative of the school system.  At the meeting, we stress to families the importance of reading and having meaningful dialogue from day one with their child to help develop vocabulary. We emphasize to young parents the importance of putting down their phones and speaking/playing/interacting with their children. We explain the importance of getting to know their school administrators and faculty before they ever drop their child off for that first day of school.

The foundation has been laid. We have met with the parents in their homes and handed off the materials, and now we are preparing for our first big event — the babies and their families are coming to the school.

Why bring a 1-year-old to the school?

  1. Meet/greet/fellowship with fellow toddlers for the potential to form play groups so the kids can begin to learn to interact with each other socially before coming to school.
  2. Meet/greet/fellowship with the administrators from their future elementary school.
  3. Meet/greet/fellowship with their future pre-K teacher. We hope the teachers will express face-to-face to parents the importance of their children having certain skills mastered before coming to school. We want parents to understand the importance of play and socializing with other children. We want to help them realize that engaging kids in technology doesn’t mean placing a child in front of an iPad or an iPhone for endless hours.

What if we improved children’s readiness for reading before they ever entered our school doors?  What if we formed relationships with future students and their families in advance?

Resources are scarce everywhere. In Heard County, we believe it is more fiscally responsible to spend on prevention rather than trying to treat a problem 16 years down the road.

The success of this program will be measured in the year 2030 when our first Baby Braves are proudly walking across the high school stage. My prayer for those children is that we adults LEARN TO BE PATIENT ENOUGH TO SEE AN INITIATIVE ALL THE WAY THROUGH FROM BEGINNING TO END.

 

Reader Comments 0

36 comments
E Pluribus Unum
E Pluribus Unum

@ Class of 98


A policy should be pursued because it is effective

in helping children learn. "IQ" is not the determining

reason for intervening in helping children to learn. It

is not the role of educators to increase an arbitrary

IQ score, but rather to teach necessary skills so

students can succeed. In responding to your question

IQ does not always remind me of eugenics,but if the

policy is to prepare children for school, then the data

on IQ is not relevant (The school district made the

decision not based on IQ, but because they were not

happy with other methods they were using.).  I'm not

trying to attack the article, but don't see "IQ" as the

primary reason some students are not achieving.

It is easy for some people to generalize about the

potential of students based on "IQ", and that is my

concern-educators have a responsibility to teach to

all students with high expectations.


Libertylover
Libertylover

So the Left destroys the family and then insists the government must swoop in and take over the parenting as soon as the baby comes home from the hospital. The plan has worked perfectly. But what about parents who are perfectly capable of raising their own children without the "help" of the gov't? Do they have to put up with this intrusion too? If I lived in Heard County and a gov't busybody showed up at my house and presumed to tell me how to raise my child, I would politely but firmly tell him or her to get off my property.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Libertylover


The "Left" has not "destroyed" the family.  The neighborhood school is not the "government" unless you listen to Rush Limbaugh. It is a neighborhood public school, paid for by government taxes.


Here is what was written, above, by Superintendent Kay:


"Rather than spending remediation money at the high school, middle school, elementary school or pre-k levels to fix the problem, what if we spent the money reaching out to new parents and educating them on how to prepare their children for pre-K and school success?"


What about his words, "reaching out" to you implies mandated?  Receptive parents would probably be grateful for the opportunity to participate in a program which would help them to create a better life for their children than they have had because of their own lack of education and literacy. The choice is the parents.'

E Pluribus Unum
E Pluribus Unum

The program seems that it could be used

to help both the families and the school

district, but I am concerned about the

reference to IQ in justifying a program

to help infants, or toddlers. It seems like

an argument from the American Eugenics

Movement in the early part of the 1900's.

I don't think the IQ rationale adds to the

reason why the program is necessary and

should not have been included.

Classof98
Classof98

@E Pluribus Unum  Why does it remind you of eugenics?  Does the mere mentioning of the letters "IQ" always elicit this response in you?  The "argument" of the eugenics movement was that less desirable humans should be weeded out.  I didn't read anywhere in the message from the school system that they want to eliminate children with low IQ's.  They simply want to try to raise their IQ's. 

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Sounds like a common sense approach to me.  More of an outreach program to start the dialogue between the teachers and the parents.  Refreshing to read about someone in education that can come up with an idea that doesn't involve taxpayers coming off the hip for $18,500 / year (the estimate of the program in the previous article) and will actually do some good rather than enrich someone by creating needless administrative jobs to oversee the program.


A little info about Heard County:

Population 11,800

Median Income  $47,000

# of Students:  2000

3 Elementary Schools

1 Middle School

1 High School


A program such as the one described will most likely work very well in a small school setting.  Heard sounds like one of those counties where everyone knows everyone.

James Blewett
James Blewett

This program is an out of the box idea. We have tried all the other programs with no or very little success, why not try this. We need to do something. I like it.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

I am glad to see that some agree, below, with the value and importance of the Heard County Baby Braves program as will be implemented until 2030, as I do.


The difference in our thinking, however, remains.  I refuse to "blame" parents and simply seek to see historical reasons for their past "failures" and seek to help them, and their children, to reach their individual full potential in a spirit of care and love, not judgment of them.  I guess that that position is simply the educator in my soul, seeking expression in reality.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Astropig @MaryElizabethSings


I was an educator for 35 years, and my youngest child is 35 years old.  I hope you will wise up as well. Education (improvement) IS a process that lasts as long as one lives. Season's greetings.

Astropig
Astropig

@MaryElizabethSings


"The difference in our thinking, however, remains'...


Nope. you're finally realizing the cultural and spiritual bankruptcy of the now discredited "state as nanny"  approach.You came to this conclusion without my help or guidance,but you did come to this conclusion.Parents are the best teachers. One fine day,when the sun shines on your leathery face and reveals truth,even you will agree that TWO parents are the best teachers of all. I'm looking forward to that day.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Astropig @MaryElizabethSings


You are a shallow thinker, in my opinion, Astropig, full of stereotypical thought running through your mind. 


I had publicly spoken out for this kind of program 25 years ago as an instructional leader in the DCSS when I encouraged pediatricians to work with school systems in identifying every newborn baby to school leaders, and to work with the school systems to enhance the literacy development of every newborn, as early as possible, in a caring environment and supported equally by the medical community as well as the school systems helping both parents and children.

Astropig
Astropig

@MaryElizabethSings @Astropig


My oldest child is 31 years,so I have been at it longer than 25 years. Piker! Beginner!


But seriously, it's good to see the educational apparatchiks finally try something that doesn't involve trying to drive a wedge between parents and kids,communities and schools and rich and poor.I'm glad you're on board and hope that you'll wise up in other areas besides.


Improvement,my nonagenarian friend,is a process,not an event.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Heard County must have little turnover, both in teachers and in population.  I think this could work in other places, such as where I taught.  One key to it is to have families that can put attending such events at the top of their lists, families who believe THEY can make a difference, that whatever bad thing happens is "God's will.  Where I live, any lack of effort, just about any wrongdoing, is blamed on God.


I worked in a place where I made visits to the hospital when a new baby was born, to give the mama a book, to visit with proud parents and grandparents, to plant a seed for the child, and to assess whether the new parent(s) or grandparents were in need of adult ed classes.  The need was generally at least 2 generations, but there was little sense of their lives ever changing for the better. I wanted a baby component, there, where we could teach the parent how to be the best, first instructor of their child.  Their problems went much further, but were intertwined with lack of education, lack of a role model in their own lives.  How do you read to your baby when you can't read?


While teaching in my last job, I started parent meetings for the Latino parents in my school.  I envisioned it being an opportunity to teach the parents how to teach their children, even if they themselves had no education.  While some progress was made, and we reached many, many parents who became more comfortable coming to the school, it never went as far as I dreamed it would.  Some of the "powers" did not think it a worthwhile use of time and effort.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I recall when HeadStart did a LOT of parent training in the late 60s to (at least) the mid 70s.

Astropig
Astropig

" At the meeting, we stress to families the importance of reading and having meaningful dialogue from day one with their child to help develop vocabulary. We emphasize to young parents the importance of putting down their phones and speaking/playing/interacting with their children."


The parents that do this will see amazing results.Their kids will be great students and future achievers!



Another comment
Another comment

This is a 50/50 shot at best! My children have gone to schools right at the perimeter that although they have high value houses also have the plague of 30-40 year old apartments ( that have now become section 8 or full of illegals). The high school make ups has been about 40% black, 40 % Hispanic and the remainder has been white and Asian. Any open house or academic oriented event is at most attended by 25 % of the population, but 99-100% of the white And Asian population. Then you look at the football and it is about 50% of the population of the school. I will let you guess the breakdowns. The Basketball games will be packed midweek as well, by the same parent that never show to the open houses, parent teacher or any academic anything.

Until that culture, along with the men hanging out at the store, on the street. Women putting up with the last sentence. Then thinking that they also are entitled to continue to go out to the club, because they had their children young. Sorry, once you make a decision to have children you don't get to hang out up by the store or go out to the club anymore. Wait until you are in your 30's to have children. That is the solution that should be pushed.

Another comment
Another comment

Remember when Chick fillet used to give out books instead of toys with their kids meals. Now McDonalds has cut out the beanie babies or what ever Minnie Disney toy dejour with Happy Meals, so Chick Fillet no longer gives out books.

Imagine what a "Christian" public service it would be if the Cathy family could start giving out the books with their kids meals again. It would reach more than the few kids their expensive camps do.

CH Snapped
CH Snapped

Now Ms. Wynn, that is a great idea! Parents really don't know. The pre-K kids are still coming in as complete blank slates. Over 70% of the kindergarten at school came in below level. But we like to blame teachers for that.

Barb Hughes
Barb Hughes

I don't know if Ga has the program for Parents as Teachers. If not, wouldn't this be a start?

Vera Wynn
Vera Wynn

I don't know if that program or one similar is still around here in Ga.But I know there was a program like that years ago here in Ga.

Vera Wynn
Vera Wynn

Your superintendent was talking this summer about the bigger problem of educating children in your system.This would be a good place to start.But I have to admit your system have a great program over at Dunbar that address babies.Before your system had prek it had a program for 3's.So they are working.For me prek is too late in many communities.

CH Snapped
CH Snapped

So so late! Dunbar could be replicated. I heard that a couple of sites are being considered for birth to 3! Imagine the possibilities for children who are stimulated all day with language, sensory material, etc! These babies would collectively be ready for pre-K, and then kindergarten. They could learn to read!

Vera Wynn
Vera Wynn

That would be great but money will be needed and a lot. But if they do there will still be a need in those communities so volunteers,community churches,should be engaged as resources to meet the need. What a wonderful world to see babies happy and thriving.

Kristen Routzahn Braid
Kristen Routzahn Braid

Barb Hughes We do have it, I believe, but it is small and families must agree to the home visitation component. Not every family is up for that. It is a wonderful service!!

Vera Wynn
Vera Wynn

I like that idea.But I would love see a school system organize volunteers to go into the home and work with parents and babies.They are so many retired teachers, para pros that are out there.It takes a village.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Superintendent Kay has implemented a program that I dreamed would happen one day, but never saw implemented during my 35 years in education.


This is the most sound and productive way that I can envision to help every child reach his or her potential when going through primary, middle, and high schools.  I encourage the Baby Braves program to continue at least until 2030 when its value can be validated.  I have no doubt that citizens and educators will be amazed at the results.  This is the smartest thing I have read that has been envisioned for improving public education in decades.  Bravo!  I have no doubt, also, that it will be continued indefinitely, even after 2030 because it will be successful.

Astropig
Astropig

@MaryElizabethSings


"Superintendent Kay has implemented a program that I dreamed would happen one day, but never saw implemented during my 35 years in education."


Hey- we agree. This is  a triumph of conservative reform.Conservatives have long sought an end to handing out entitlements as a means to improve academic outcomes.Stressing parental involvement with the young 'uns is really a turning away from 50 years of failed liberal social engineering and substituting the state for the nuclear family.I couldn't applaud this any louder (my hands are sore from clapping) and I'm glad that even tambourine-tapping,face- painting (long) retired flower children are now in agreement. 


Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady @Astropig @MaryElizabethSings


Reading with, and talking to,interacting with and loving your kids is the best way to help them develop emotionally,educationally and sometimes physically (if you can keep up with them,that is).It costs nothing.I support any effort to encourage that behavior in parents.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Astropig @Wascatlady @MaryElizabethSings There have been studies of the difference in lower class mothers' interactions with their kids vs middle and upper class interactions.  Lower economic strata mothers tend to use thousands less words with their children, and the words they use tend to be words of command.  Higher SES mothers tend to use a wider variety of vocabulary with their children, and the words tend to be used for explaining and teaching (elaborative language).


Parenting IS expensive: you have to give up on self and YOUR desires, and willing to put the growing child's needs first.  I see a lot of that not happening.